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Stories about life in Denmark

Driving in Denmark: Doll-size parking spaces and unexpected U-turns

While a car is useful for exploring the Danish countryside, a car in one of Denmark’s larger cities can be a millstone around your neck.

The traffic is terrible, the fuel costs stratospheric, the parking spaces doll-sized. Bicyclists own the road and often ignore traffic rules.

If you’re just visiting, don’t feel you need to rent a car when you land at the airport.

Even if the home or business you’re visiting is in the suburbs, there’s a good chance you’ll save money by taking a cab – and most Danish taxis are Mercedes-Benz or Teslas. (There is no Uber or Lyft in Denmark.)

Watch out for bicyclists
If you do choose to drive in the city, be very careful about right turns.

Several Danish bicyclists are killed every year because a car or truck took a right turn and the bicyclist (who may be drunk, grooving out to music on his earbuds, or simply not paying attention) continued going straight.

There is no legal right turn on red in Denmark, and even on green, the bicyclist has the right of way.

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Stories about life in Denmark

Moving to Denmark: A few basic tips

Denmark is a lovely place to settle down for a while, or even permanently if you are ready to do battle with the immigration authorities.

Make sure you bring money. Denmark is an expensive place to live where you will own less stuff, but better stuff.

That said, there’s no need to bring much furniture, in particular if your furniture is nothing special.

You can easily purchase basic pieces from IKEA, either in Denmark or in IKEA’s homeland of Sweden, and there’s also the option of buying gorgeous Danish design furniture inexpensively at local second-hand stores and flea markets.

Clothing and beauty products
Bring lots of casual, warm, and waterproof clothing. You don’t need huge polar jackets – Denmark rarely goes below 0 Fahrenheit/-15 Celsius – but halter tops and suede loafers will see very little service.

When it comes to business clothing, blazers, sweaters, and trousers in subtle colors are usually your best bet. (Danes are not great fans of whimsy or eccentricity when it comes to clothing or jewelry.)

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Stories about life in Denmark

Denmark is not just Copenhagen

One of the things that surprised me when I first moved to Denmark is that there could be so many distinctions and divisions between fewer than six million people living in an area half the size of Indiana.

But the differences exist, and they are deeply felt.

Stopping by Copenhagen and saying you’ve seen Denmark is a little bit like stopping by Manhattan and Disney World and saying you’ve seen the United States. (And many Danes do precisely this.)

Dry humor in Jylland
While Copenhagen is both the capital of the country and its business center, much of the country’s wealth is generated in Jylland, the large land mass stuck to Germany.

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Stories about life in Denmark

Danes and Boats

It’s a funny kind of summer this year in Copenhagen, without the usual swarm of tourists.

No blustering American cruise ship passengers looking for KONG-ens Nytorv (pronounced like the protagonist in “King Kong”). No groups of petite elderly Chinese ladies posing for pictures around the Hans Christian Andersen statue. No European families wobbling on their rental bikes and riding very, very slowly in the bike lanes.

Because of the coronavirus, only tourists from Norway, Iceland, and Germany are welcome in Denmark this summer, and they’re a lot like family anyway.

In a sense, we longtime residents have the city for ourselves. It’s rather nice.

Of course, there’s less to do – no Copenhagen Jazz Festival, no Roskilde Festival, no Distortion, and a lot fewer of the big family parties and graduation bashes that keep things lively in other years.

But there are still the parks, the gardens, and the water. There’s nothing more eternal in Denmark than going out on a boat.

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Stories about life in Denmark

The Christmas tree on the bicycle, and other stories of a bike-only household

Whenever the holiday season approaches, I always think about the time I brought home our Christmas tree on a bicycle.

It was a grey day in late November – we Americans like to start our Christmas decorating early – and my young daughter dearly wanted a tree for our Copenhagen apartment.

So we walked through the snow to the parking lot of a nearby Netto, where a cheerful fellow from Jutland was waiting with a good selection of sweet-smelling pines.

Being a very small girl, my daughter wanted a very big tree. The man spied our shopper bike and looked a little doubtful, but he went ahead and wrapped up one of the largest trees in white plastic netting, and helped us lift it onto the bike.

The trunk was on the baggage carrier in the back, and the top of the tree over the handlebars and into the basket. We walked the bike home that way, with my daughter holding the big pine tree at its center over the seat, while I steered the bike in the right direction.

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Stories about life in Denmark

Danish, Dutch, Deutschland – Why Denmark gets confused with its neighbors

I run a small business, so often I outsource minor tasks. This week I outsourced the writing of some Tweets to Jessie, a college student in the United States.

Jessie did a good job, with one major exception: in all 100 Tweets, she confused the word Danish with the word Dutch.

For example:

Copenhagen Fashion Week – Check out the latest in Dutch fashion!

Stay healthy like the Dutch: Bicycling in Denmark

10 top restaurants in Copenhagen: Enjoy Dutch cuisine!

Now, don’t give me that stereotype about geographically dumb Americans. At least not until Europeans can tell me the difference between Iowa, Idaho and Ohio – and yes, there is a difference.

Understandable confusion
The fact is, confusing the Dutch and the Danes is understandable. They both represent small, peaceful countries with seafaring traditions. Countries which are today best known for healthy blond people on bicycles, rushing home to see their monarchs on TV and eat potato-based dishes.

The Dutch are known for their windmills. The Danes are known for their wind turbines. It’s an understandable mistake.

But among the neighbors to Denmark, it’s actually not the Dutch who resemble the Danes most. It’s not the Norwegians, even though Norway actually used to be a part of Denmark. It’s not the Swedes, who now serve as a low-wage workforce in Copenhagen shops and fast food restaurants.

It’s the Germans.

Awkward and aggressive
Now, my Danish friends might not like to hear me say that. There have been wars, and the Germans are sometimes seen as awkward and aggressive.

But the Danes are more German than they’d ever want to admit. For example, the Germans love punctuality. Pünktlichkeit muss sein.

So do the Danes. In Denmark, if you have a business meeting at 10am, you need to show up at precisely 10am. 10:03 is not good. 10:05 is embarrassing – you’d better apologize. 10:10 is a humiliation. And it’s not just business. I’ve had dinner parties where my guests actually circle the block so they can ring the bell at 8-dot-00-dot 00.

Now, this is not entirely a bad thing. The buses run on time in Denmark. The trains often run on time. Otherwise mass transit wouldn’t be so popular.

For the sake of good order
Both countries also like order. If a Dane wants to say that someone is a stand-up, trustworthy guy, they say he’s ordentlig – orderly. When they want you to clarify something, they ask you to do it ‘for the sake of good order.’ For god ordens skyld. For the sake of good order, let’s write this contract down.

Of course, the German love of order is well-known. Ordnung muß sein! Everything must be in order. And, of course, if you come across a German friend crying, wailing, in despair, you say Ist was nicht i ordnung? Is something not in order?

In general, the languages are very similar: Danish, like English, is a Germanic language.

I used to live in Berlin, long before I moved to Denmark, and I still confuse the languages. When I’m speaking Danish I sometimes reach for some long-forgotten adjective and I take a moment to wrestle with the question – is this word I’ve found German or is it Danish? At least half the time I’m wrong.

No Bundesflagge on birthday cakes
Of course, there are differences. Danes are wildly and openly patriotic in a way Germans are not, for obvious historical reasons.

The Danish flag is almost always used on birthday cakes, but you won’t seen the Bundesflagge on top of a geburtstagstorte, unless maybe the German team is in the World Cup.

And Germans love their hierarchy, in a way Danes do not. In Denmark, just about everybody uses his or her first name – teachers, doctors, bank officers. An incredibly old lady might be Fru Jensen, but I don’t think I’ve used the corresponding masculine title, Herr Jensen, in the 13 years I’ve been in Denmark.

Germans, on the other hand, love their titles, and even pile them on top of each other. Herr Doktor Professor von Schmidt.

People who know German – or French or Spanish for that matter – know there’s two ways to say ‘you’, formal and informal.

In French it’s tu and vous, in Spanish it’s usted and tu, and in German it’s du and Sie – and woe be it to you if you use du when the German you’re talking to is expecting the formal Sie.

That’s not true in Denmark. Everybody is du There is a formal Danish ‘you’, called De, which immigrants still learn in language schools, but it’s never used.

Except for letters you get from your bank. Don’t ask me why.

The dominant neighbor?
Now there is one irony in the Danish-German relationship. For many years, Germany has been the dominant partner. Even today, Danish schoolchildren learn German – German kids don’t learn Danish.

Danes drive into Germany to buy beer and soda pop, not the other way around. And Germany has invaded Denmark several times, most recently in the 1990s, when Germans were buying up all the summer houses in Western Denmark, driving out the Danes.

This is true – Denmark got a special dispensation from the EU to prohibit Germans from buying summer houses in Denmark.

But in recent years, the flow of influence has gone in the other direction, particularly when it comes to Berlin, the German capital.

Locals there have been complaining because foreign investors are buying huge blocks of apartments, driving up the prices. And the biggest group of foreign property investors….are from Denmark.

 

Hear all our How to Live in Denmark podcasts on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts (iTunes).

 

Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or Saxo.com or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook. You can also book a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.

Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2020

Books, Stories about life in Denmark

Get your ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book at the Statens Museum for Kunst / Danish National Gallery

I do a lot of writing in the lovely, sunny cafe at the Statens Museum for Kunst, otherwise known as the Danish National Gallery.

This museum is free to the public and has a great collection of both historic and contemporary art.

Now I’m excited to say that you can get a paperback copy of the ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book in English at the Statens Museum for Kunst gift shop.

You can also buy a copy of the book at the shop at Denmark’s National Museum, at the Politiken Bookstore on Radhuspladsen, or at Made in Denmark on Brolæggergade 8. It can also be special-ordered from any bookstore in Denmark, although you may have to wait a couple of weeks. It’s also available in Aarhus at Stakbogladen near the university.

Not in Denmark? You can get the How to Live in Denmark Book sent anywhere in the world, or download the How to Live in Denmark eBook right now!

National Museum of Denmark shop book
Books, Stories about life in Denmark

Get your ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book at the National Museum of Denmark

Stop by the shop at Danmarks Nationamuseet /The National Museum of Denmark to get a paperback copy of the ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book in English or Chinese.

Denmark’s National Museum is located in downtown Copenhagen, and it’s got a great collection of Viking artifacts as well as a wonderful kids section where kids can dress up as Vikings and ride in a play Viking ship.

You can also buy a copy of the book at the Politiken Bookstore on Radhuspladsen, or at Made in Denmark on Brolæggergade 8. It can also be special-ordered from any bookstore in Denmark, although you may have to wait a couple of weeks.

Not in Denmark? You can get the How to Live in Denmark Book sent anywhere in the world, or download the How to Live in Denmark eBook right now!

Books, Stories about life in Denmark

恭喜發財! The ‘How to Live in Denmark’ Chinese version is now available.

After a process that seemed to take longer than building the Great Wall, the Chinese version of ‘How to Live in Denmark’ is finally available, just in time for Chinese New Year. This is the year of the Goat, an auspicious year for creative enterprises. 恭喜發財!

Thanks to my Singapore-based translator, John Zhao, as well as the many Denmark-based Chinese speakers who took time to help me out! I appreciate it.

You can access the eBook version here on the site or via Apple’s iBooks store. (Due to an agreement with the Chinese government, Amazon does not support Chinese for Kindle Direct Publishing.) It’s also available via the Danish online bookstore, Saxo.com.

A print version of the How to Live in Denmark Chinese version will be available March 1.

Please contact me if you’re interested in a volume package to distribute to your student or work organization,  of if you’re interested inviting me to China (I would be happy to visit my old colleagues at the South China Morning Post) or having me stage a live ‘How To Live in Denmark’ event.

Podcasts

Cheating on Mother Nature: Danes and Environmentalism

 

It’s been a beautiful autumn here in Denmark. Golden sun and blue skies, red and yellow and orange leaves on the trees. Just gorgeous. And unusually warm for Denmark. It’s always exciting when, instead of wearing your winter coat every day from October to April, you can wear it every day from November to April.

But this unusually pleasant weather can’t help but spark conversation about global warming. So far the biggest impact climate change has had in Denmark are some severe rainstorms, when end up flooding a lot of basements and overwhelming a lot of sewer systems. It’s intriguing to think that plumbers may become the great heroes of the twenty-first century.

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